Home explodes after thief nabs copper pipes

On January 7, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing

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Home explodes after thief nabs copper pipes

“It blew out one wall and bowed another one”


August 30, 2007

A thief who stripped copper tubing from a propane tank is blamed for a gas buildup and house explosion that severely burned an 80-year-old Onawa man, authorities said Wednesday.

Earl Thelander suffered third-degree burns over nearly half his body in Tuesday’s blast. Investigators say the gas buildup was linked to the disappearance of the tubing, which has increasingly been targeted by so-called “urban miners” who hope to cash in on the high price of certain scrap metals.

The burglar who hit Thelander’s rural home “maybe got $15 worth of copper,” Monona County Sheriff Jeff Pratt said. “They cut the propane line going to the furnace of the house in an attempt to steal the copper.”

Pratt said Thelander discovered the theft Tuesday and tried to air out the house, which he uses for rental income. He went to the basement and plugged in a fan, which investigators say likely sparked the explosion shortly after noon.

“It blew out one wall and bowed another one,” Pratt said. “But Earl walked out of there.”

The thief got away with 25 to 40 feet of copper tubing. Scrap metal prices have climbed in recent years due to increased demand in countries such as India and China.

“This just totally bowled people over that someone would do something menacing like this,” Onawa Mayor Rebecca Tanner said. “It’s one thing to steal copper water pipes. But to steal copper gas pipes is beyond comprehension. This caused a tremendous explosion. Everyone knows how dangerous gas can be.

“Everyone in town who knows about this is amazed, startled and outraged.”

Thelander tried to use his cell phone to call for help, but it apparently was rendered inoperable in the blast.

“He drove himself back into town and to the hospital,” Pratt said. “He is really a remarkable guy.”

Thelander was later moved to an Omaha hospital with a specialized burn unit. He was in critical condition Wednesday.

Pratt said there have been relatively few copper thefts reported in Monona County.

“Counties to the south have had this problem,” he said. “Now we’ve got it – in a major way.”

Reporter Tom Alex can be reached at (515) 284-8088 or talex@dmreg.com.


Good point on if he had walked in on the thieves…
Posted by: leopard_colony on Sat Sep 01, 2007 9:18 am
Unfortunately Granddad hit the nail on the head… what would happen if someone interrupted these thieves? Odds are the homeowner would wind up dead. Since most theft is drug related it is likely the thieves have impaired judgment and are desperate for a fix. If you are in a rural area and hear someone outside you better be armed. There is no way the sheriff can reach you in time, nor do you want to pester them with false alarms. So grab your gun when you investigate. It doesn’t mean you have to shoot someone, it just means you can save your own life.

my solution
Posted by: FarWest on Thu Aug 30, 2007 2:00 pm
This thief deserves about 3 feet of 3/4″ copper suppository. I would say yes to attempted murder. I hope Mr. Thelander survives this. He must be one heck of a strong man to walk out of there and go for help.

Reader Comment
Posted by: Granddad on Thu Aug 30, 2007 1:12 pm
That is nothing less then attemted murder Don`t know if they are the same thieves that stole the copper out of One of my rentals three months ago. But catch these rotten bastards before someone gets killed. seriously if This outstanding gentalman (for his survival skills if nothing else)would have walked in on them stealing the copper what do you think these scumbags would have done(Surrender) Right.Solution. Need to moniter all sales of bulk copper having said this 3 times now DMPD are you listening there is only a handful of places that take metel like this. ARE records being kept ,Names being taken,Follow ups being made MMMM or a police force being lazy. now an elderly man has third degree burns over half his body GET BUSY.

Reader Comment
Posted by: dvmurphy from Waterloo, IA on Sep 4, 2007
I personally know Earl Thealander and his wife Hope. I hope they catch the no-good idiot who stripped his house of the copper tubing to the furnace. I hope Earl is doing great at the hospital and my heart goes out to his family. He is a great man and a great landlord to have. I should know as I rented an apartment from them for two years. If you needed anything that family was great. He is a well respected man in his community and would give you the shirt off his back to help you. The punk who caused his burns I hope he enjoys his lousy $15 that could have cost Earl his life. My Father always said that what you don’t pay for on earth you pay three fold to the Lord. The idiot who caused this accident will have to live with what he did. God bless you Earl.

Reader Comment
Posted by: dvmurphy from Waterloo, IA on Sep 4, 2007
I just found out that Earl died. I am saddened for his loss. My heart goes out to his family. If they catch this person responsible he should be tried for murder.

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Man Recovering After House Explodes

On January 7, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing

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Man Recovering After House Explodes


August 31, 2007

Thieves broke into Earl Thelander’s Onawa home on Tuesday, stealing copper pipes and starting a gas leak. When Thelander turned on a fan to clear the fumes, the house exploded, burning over 80 percent of his body.

The 80-year-old called for help from his cell phone, but then decided to drive himself to the hospital. Thelander remains in critical condition, clinging to life.

Earl’s sons say they don’t have time to be angry at the thieves, they’re just hoping their dad pulls through.

“Tonight we’re just hoping that his kidneys and lungs keep functioning. You know it’s definitely a struggle at this point,” Brad Thelander said.

Police say the copper taken from Thelanders’s home was worth only $10.

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Victim Of Robbery And Explosion Passes Away

On January 7, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing

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Victim Of Robbery And Explosion Passes Away

September 1, 2007, 11:12 pm

KTIV photo of rural homeAn Onawa, Iowa man died Saturday night, just days after a propane explosion at his home.

On Tuesday, police say someone robbed this home and stole copper tubing water lines. In the process, the thieves cut the propane line.

Later that day, the homeowner, 80 year old Earl Thelander, turned on a fan to vent the fumes and that’s when the explosion happened.

Thelander drove himself to the Burgess Medical Center in Onawa, with burns over 40% of his body.

Copyright © 2007 KTIV

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The Faces Behind Those Who Loved Dad Earl Thelander

On October 28, 2007, in Family, Videos, by Jody Ewing

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Yeah. It’s us.

The faces behind those who loved Dad Earl, as well as some of the events and people that often have made the days of our lives feel like ordinary miracles.